It has been almost a year since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, devastating the island. Despite the fact that nearly 12 months have passed, many are still without power and struggling to get access to basic necessities such as clean water. Crime has gone up in many of the neighborhoods as people struggle to support their families and exhausted police officers refuse to continue to work overtime without being paid.
There has been a complete breakdown in the infrastructure in response to the physical devastation, and it will take years to completely heal the island. However, there are things we can do to help the people of Puerto Rico. From small donations to an actual trip or vacation to Puerto Rico, we can help rebuild this amazing community.
Organizations also offer up volunteer opportunities for those looking to devote an entire trip to relief work. If you are able to donate an entire trip to volunteer work, you can apply to such organizations as Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and All Hands Volunteer. Connect Relief is also an organization that works to aid relief efforts. It is an app that connects people in need with those looking to volunteer, and it is an easy way to see where people are needed. You will usually have to find your own way to Puerto Rico when accepting a volunteer assignment, so be sure to scout around for the cheapest air tickets.
A Caribbean cruise would be the perfect way to get out of the cold while helping to boost the local economy with a visit. San Juan is Puerto Rico’s major cruise port with over two million cruise passengers traveling through it each year. The port is open and full of shopping, plenty of places to eat local cuisine and even activities such as kayaking, snorkeling as well as an easy walk-about of historical Old San Juan.
Most of Puerto Rico’s hotels have reopened and are welcoming guests but some attractions are still not available, and it is important to do your research before traveling. However, vacationing on the island aids the local economy and its efforts to rebuild. There are many vacation opportunities specifically designed for visitors to help volunteer, and most hotels have volunteer opportunities if you ask the staff.
If you are looking for a great place to stay that has easy access to activities and other local excursions, Condado Plaza Hilton is a great place to stay on the island. It is in a prime location, offering plenty to do on site, and it is a short distance from Old San Juan. This historic district has been beautifully restored and is home to a variety of places that capture the heart and soul of Puerto Rico as well as its history. Unique shops, boutique hotels, and incredible restaurants offer luxurious accommodations. The old world charm is evident in the ambiance and ancient buildings.
There are multiple forts you can explore that have stood for more than 500 years, as well as historic churches built with amazing architecture, museums that tell the Island’s history and even activities such as salsa dancing. Breathtaking ocean views and sandy beaches are perfect to enjoy the sunshine and water sports. Its romantic atmosphere also makes it the perfect place for destination weddings.
One of the first places hit by Hurricane Maria was the island of Cayo Santiago, known as Monkey Island. It is a small island off the southeast coast of the mainland where over 1,000 monkeys reside. In the 1930s, scientists brought rhesus macaques to the island where they began studying primate behavior. These monkeys have thrived on the island since their arrival, but the hurricane destroyed their vegetation and water supply. It also devastated the neighboring island of Punta Santiago where many staff members live as well as other residents.
There are two Go Fund Me pages for the monkeys as well as the staff that care for the monkeys and the community of Punta Santiago. However, if you want to be more active, you can actually travel to Punta Santiago and stay in one of the six guest houses at Barefoot Travelers located next to the Humacao Nature Reserve. Guests can take kayak rides around the island and even travel to Monkey Island to see these amazing creatures. There are even hang gliding and paragliding classes. It is a great way to help give back to the community.
Pack A Suitcase
If you plan on traveling to Puerto Rico, simply bringing a suitcase full of supplies would be a major help. Check out Not Just Tourists to see how you can take a suitcase full of much needed medical supplies. This organization teams up with countries in need and travelers to bring in medical supplies such as gauze, birthing kits, catheters, stethoscopes and other necessary items. Just by bringing one pre-packed suitcase as a carry on could help save lives.
If you can’t commit to a trip out to Puerto Rico and would prefer to make a donation, there are almost endless ways to donate. Charity Navigator has complied a list of top reputable organizations accepting donations for the victims of Hurricane Maria. Aside from the standard organizations, many have begun to explore more creative options to help Puerto Rico.
Tzu Chi USA
Tzu Chi USA has been reaching out to those affected by the hurricane in Puerto Rico especially in the municipality of Yabucoa. This community was once thriving with over 34,000 people, but now only three families remain after the hurricane. Tzu Chi volunteers have been handing out emergency cash cards to those still struggling some four months later. They have also been working on a plan for plastic waste management and recycling.
Puerto Rico’s main source of clean water has been from plastic bottles leaving behind a vast amount of plastic waste. Tzu Chi works to recycle plastic bottles into eco-friendly clothes and blankets. The blankets they distribute during relief efforts are actually made from plastic bottles, and they are working with Puerto Rico to continue to recycle plastic waste in addition to other relief efforts.
Adopt A Family
Instead of donating money to organizations that will use it as they see fit, those that want to help can actually adopt a family. View the wish lists and send supplies directly to the families without any third party intermediaries. It is an easier way to send people supplies directly.
Make sure to use Charity Navigator to insure the organizations you work with are reputable.